Piaggio Aero Industries chief executive Josè DiMase yesterday confirmed industry speculation that the Italian manufacturer is indeed developing a business jet, revealing that the new airplane would be larger and have a longer range than the company’s sleek Avanti II turboprop.
“Yes, we are very serious,” DiMase said yesterday at a press conference. He stopped short of formally announcing a launch for the program. A model of the proposed airframe at the Piaggio America booth (No. 276) shows two wing-mounted engines, each with rounded-off, rectangular shaped air inlets and spinner-like protrusions on their rear, as if the propellers had fallen off. Each wing underside has two vortilons, and the cabin shows five windows. The airframe itself is similar in shape to the Avanti, with a T-tail design and canard lifting surfaces.
“Be sure that Piaggio is looking to the future,” said company chairman Piero Ferrari. “Every year small steps, but every year better.”
Jim Holcombe, executive v-p of sales and marketing, said the company has increased its production rate for the P.180 Avanti II to 2.5 aircraft per month, with a current backlog of more than $600 million. He said the factory expects to deliver 32 Avanti II aircraft next year, with a price tag of $6.495 million. There are currently 68 Piaggios flying in North America and 43 in Europe.
FlightSafety International’s Avanti II simulator last week received FAA Level-D certification, and more than 350 pilots have already gone through the ground school, Piaggio America president Tom Appleton said, with simulator classes starting early next year.
Appleton told NBAA Convention News that the existing airframe manufacturing facilities in Italy are aging, with one building nearly 100 years old. Production is expected to transition to a new facility 50 miles west of Genoa over the next year or two, enabling the company to pump out up to 50 airplanes per year, he said.
In other news, Piaggio yesterday signed an agreement with Pratt & Whitney Canada to acquire 25 percent of the share capital of Pratt & Whitney Canada Turbo Engines Corp., which produces the PW206 and PW207 helicopter engines. Appleton said this is purely a strategic investment and does not indicate any desire on the part of Piaggio to produce a helicopter.
Piaggio broke its own speed record Sunday when an Avanti II arrived at Orlando Executive Airport from Denver, covering 1,369 miles in just over three hours, at an average ground speed of 477 mph. The company has been tracking its product’s best trip speeds since opening its North American facility in 2000.
The Avanti II has a range of more than 1,800 miles at a speed of 398 knots (450 mph) and a maximum cruising altitude of 41,000 feet. Its overall performance is similar to that of a jet but with 30 percent less fuel and operating costs. The Avanti is licensed to operate with a single pilot and can carry up to nine passengers.
Piaggio Aero Industries has facilities in Genoa, Finale Ligure and Naples (Italy) and subsidiaries in Nice (France) and in West Palm Beach, Fla.